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Antwerp Bishop Johan Bonny


Oct. 13, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp, elected by his peers to represent the Belgian bishops at the Synod on the Family, was one of the speakers at the first plenary assembly that took place last Monday.

Bonny, one of the younger Synod Fathers, is well known for his progressive stances. At the Synod, he adopted a standpoint that is common to all the proponents of Cardinal Kasper’s proposals for “mercy” towards couples living in other forms of cohabitation than true, lifelong marriage between a man and a woman. Namely, he spoke positively about marriage – suggesting implicitly that Church doctrine should not change on that point – while at the same time relying on sociological observation in order to justify new attitudes.

Bonny’s outspokenness on many forms of rejection of Catholic doctrine on marriage, family and human sexuality certainly made his speech an important one to put under scrutiny. But the first question that comes to mind is how such an obviously heterodox bishop can be considered as a legitimate interlocutor at all, in a Synod which is supposed to be working on the truth about marriage and the best way to guard that truth.

Marriage and family are still “very important values in our Western culture,” said bishop Bonny, “and that is a positive anchoring point for the Church”.

But he went on to quote the Instrumentum laboris (working document): “At the same time, our society has doubts about the ‘feasibility’ and the ‘durability’ of marriage and family.” It is up to the Church to make the choice of marrying and having children “desirable,” he said, as well as sending out a “convincing” message about the “path towards this choice.”

“As the institutional framework of marriage and family, civil marriage also deserves consideration in this context,” he said.

In the context of the Kasperite proposals which he so enthusiastically upholds, such a statement savors of relativism: the whole point of the argument is to show how non-marital status somehow leads to the “good” of marriage, or at least to part of that good. This is another subtle way of undermining true marriage – even true natural marriage. In many Western countries, civil marriage, while unavoidable, does not present the principal marks of marriage, not even of natural marriage, as partners no longer commit to fidelity and indissolubility. In several countries civil marriage has been stripped of its meaning by the legalization of same-sex “marriage.” Surely this is a time for the Church to underscore the specifics of true marriage…

It is true that the structure of the Instrumentum laboris is in its first part – the one that is being examined in this first of three weeks of the duration of the Synod – mostly sociological. Mgr. Bonny was just following its lead in noting that “even among believers, sacramental marriage is no longer de facto the only model for marriage and family life.” “The experience of our contemporaries are many and varied,” following a very “personal path.”

“This development, despite its risks and constraints, also offers possibilities and opportunities. It is important that the Church should take hold of the positive or constructive elements of this development, in order to appreciate the ‘seeds of the Word’ that are alive in these experiences, and to recognize the stages of growth of people who are constructing themselves, day after day, to reveal and to promote the ‘divine pedagogy of grace’ in the path walked by God alongside them, to salute in the ‘symphony of differences’ a ‘praeparatio evangelica’, and above all to put en end to exclusion,” said Bishop Bonny.

As is typical of his approach, Bonny used the Instrumentum laboris to promote all its most disputed points and, in a way, to underline the way he wants them used radically to change the Church’s language on lifestyles that it can in no way approve of. The Instrumentum laboris here reveals itself to be easily used toward that end.

Calling cohabitation, divorce and second “marriages” or perhaps even homosexual partnerships “opportunities” for the Church through their “positive elements” is like saying that fires create opportunities for fire-fighters – except that fires are expected to be put out, while disordered relationships are here presented as part of a great positive picture.

Bonny went on to say that bishops face many diverse questions and needs that require “pastoral answers,” often differing wildly from one country or continent to another. They need one common denominator, he said: “That the Church should place itself in ‘the great river of mercy’.”

For the rest, bishop Bonny would like to see local bishops get more power from the Synod: “Space for action and the necessary responsibility in order to formulate adequate responses to pastoral questions in that portion of the people of God that has been trusted to them.” At the same time, the bishop of Antwerp would like to see bishops’ conferences playing a “specific role” in this distribution of power.

Seeing that Bishop Bonny does not even consider Church doctrine in the matters brought to the fore at the Synod on the Family as binding, one can see where he wants to go.

He has personally shown his desire to scrap large lumps of Magisterial teaching: in a recently published book, he criticizes Humanae Vitae, the Church’s refusal of contraception, and even natural law as a stable foundation for distinguishing good and bad, preferring a relativist ethic that takes one’s personal life history and biography into account.

During this first week of the Synod, the French language groups or Circuli minores added a few of their own pleas for change. In “Gallicus A”, moderated by Cardinal Lacroix, the Synod Fathers concluded that “it is necessary to move forward from what families are experiencing today and that are a fulcrum from which to announce the Gospel: we know that we can discern seeds of the Word in the experiences of families today… Our text must adopt an open tone that fosters dialogue with our contemporaries.”

Group “Gallicus B,” moderated by the traditionally minded Cardinal Sarah, reveals that some of its members – but not all – discussed allowing bishops’ conferences to dispose of certain powers in order to let their pastors be “good Samaritans” in their ecclesiastical service. The group also spoke largely about “gender theory,” underscoring its “ideological” character, “especially when it is spread or even imposed by “certain international organizations.”

Group “Gallicus C” also raised the problem of gender ideology.

But on the whole, discussions in the Circuli minori were far from being as progressive as the points made by bishop Bonny: some even protested against the text as “flawed or inadequate, especially in its theology, clarity, trust in the power of grace, its use of Scripture and its tendency to see the world through overwhelmingly Western eyes” (Group Anglicus D, under Cardinal Collins and Archbishop Chaput).

What does appear is the existence of a definite confrontation, and it has started early.